Incorporating Antique Rugs Into Your Design Scheme

A vintage or antique rug anchors a room, introduces pattern and color, and usually tells a great story. The term vintage designates items that are at least 20 years old; while antique rugs are 100 years old or more. No matter the age of the floor covering you select, spotting that perfect kilim or oushak among thousands of area rugs is no easy feat.

“The world of handmade rugs is as vast and varied as the countries and cultures they’re from,” said Georgia Hoyler, owner of Passerine, an online rug shop headquartered in Washington, D.C. “As with many crafts, rug-making techniques and styles vary by location and period, so it is difficult for an interested homeowner to become an expert on the market at large before making a purchase.”  

Wondering how to select and incorporate a vintage or antique rug into your design scheme? Mansion Global turned to a group of experts to learn more about picking and placing these storied textiles. 

More: How to Create the Ideal Kitchen Island

Buy Handmade, not Hand-Tufted or Power-Loomed Rugs

“‘Oriental’is a catch-all term for rugs that may have been constructed anywhere in Asia. This includes Turkey, Iran, China, Tibet, India and Pakistan, among others. Persian rugs, in comparison, refer only to rugs made in the former Persian Empire. This generally equates to modern-day Iran, but includes rugs made in some areas of modern-day Pakistan as well. Persian rugs are thus a type of oriental rug, but not all oriental rugs are Persian. There are beautiful rugs across all of these areas, and what to look for comes down to a mix of what styles you find appealing, what materials are appropriate for your lifestyle, and what you can afford. 

“Handmade rugs fall into one of two broad categories: They are either flat-woven (for example, kilims, dhurries), or they are pile rugs (oushaks, mahals, kermans, berbers, tabrizes, etc.).  

“What customers should first seek to do on their own is confirm that the rug was actually handmade (not hand-tufted or power-loomed, both of which refer to mechanized processes to produce lesser-quality rugs). Confirming that a pile rug is handmade is easy––just look for a picture of the backside of the rug. If it shows the same pattern as the front, it is likely handmade. If it is covered with some kind of canvas or other material, it is likely a hand-tufted or machine-made rug that has had another layer glued to its back. 

“Handmade rugs should show the imperfection of an authentic handmade item. The pattern in its border may be slightly asymmetrical, or a scroll pattern may not look as perfectly curved as intended––that’s all evidence of a human hand.”

A handmade rug from online shop Passerine sets the tone in this living space by Keyanna Bowen.

Keyanna Bowen

Georgia Hoyler, owner, Passerine in Washington, D.C.

More: Making the Most of Low-Ceiling Spaces

Buy Rugs From an Established Dealer

“I encourage my clients to buy with their eyes and their heart. There are good pieces, excellent pieces and truly fantastic pieces. Personal taste and individual expression are key and vary with each person.

“Finer rugs last longer and they are able to take more traffic. In general, Persian rugs offer the most variety of pattern, color and exquisite quality. You buy rugs to live with them harmoniously, not tuck them away out of sight. Don’t be afraid––great rugs can take foot traffic and water. 

“The dealer is the most important element in the equation: Buy only from an established, experienced dealer you can trust. Provenance is of crucial importance. Who were the previous owners? Ask questions about the previous repairs and restoration of the piece you are interested in purchasing.”

According to veteran rug expert Jason Nazmiyal, the dealer is the most important element in the equation.

Courtesy of Nazmiyal Collection

—Jason Nazmiyal, founder and owner of Nazmiyal Antique Rugs in New York

Use the Rug as a Building Block for the Design

“Always start with the rug. Antique and vintage rugs provide such rich colors and patterns––they’re ideal building blocks for any room design.

“With regard to color, choosing a single color in the rug and pulling it through the room is a safe but pretty strategy. With a classic navy and red rug, for example, you could put a light blue grass cloth on the walls, add a medium blue sofa, and bring in pillows in blue and cream patterns. 

“I advise varying the scale when mixing patterns. If your rug has a tight intricate pattern, consider wide stripes and loose florals for your upholstery and window treatments. If you’re going for a sophisticated look, add solids also, and if bohemian or eclectic is your style, the more patterns the merrier.”

—Designer Annie Elliott in Washington, D.C.

More: Designing a Beautiful Indoor Garden

Consider How a Room’s Furniture Will Lay Out

“First think about sizing. Antique rugs can’t be ordered in custom sizes, so it often takes time to find a good fit. Consider the furniture layout in your room and how people will move through the space. Ideally furniture should all sit on top of the rug, or consistently sit off of the rug. Think about the corners of the rugs—will they cause a tripping hazard? Avoid placing a corner in a direct circulation path or in a doorway.

“Also, it’s important to think about your personal tolerance for wear and tear. Well-made antique rugs can last for hundreds of years, but often show signs of age. Patina is what makes antiques so special and interesting, but if you are looking for something that shows little age or wear, be sure to look closely at the photos of all parts of the rug (or see it in person, if you can).

“Our go-to sources for antique and vintage rugs include 1st Dibs, J Namnoun Rug Gallery,, Revival Rugs, Upstate Rugs.”

When placing a vintage or antique rug, Georgia Zikas considers the furniture layout and how people will move through the space.

Jane Beiles

—Designer Georgia Zikas in West Hartford, Connecticut

Click to read more news and stories about luxury home design